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Approaches to energy transitions: Carbon pricing, managed decline, and/or green new deal?

Authors:

Abstract

The need for wholescale energy transitions across the globe is now clear, but there is still much debate about how best to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Carbon‐pricing has so far been unable to avert the coming climate catastrophe. Instead supply‐side, managed decline of the fossil fuel sector and proposals for Green New Deals, or Just Transition are gaining steam among academics, policy communities, and movements and even entering mainstream politics. In this article, I review three main approaches to energy transition and highlight their underlying goals and assumptions. I argue that movements for energy transition must center social and economic justice in their struggles if they want to gain broad‐based appeal.
Received: 31 July 2020
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Revised: 12 November 2020
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Accepted: 31 December 2020
DOI: 10.1111/gec3.12554
ARTICLE
Approaches to energy transitions: Carbon
pricing, managed decline, and/or green new
deal?
Emily Eaton
Department of Geography and Environmental
Studies, University of Regina, Regina,
Saskatchewan, Canada
Correspondence
Emily Eaton, Department of Geography and
Environmental Studies, University of Regina,
3737 Wascana Pkwy, Regina, SK S4S 0A2,
Canada.
Email: Emily.eaton@uregina.ca
Abstract
The need for wholescale energy transitions across the
globe is now clear, but there is still much debate about how
best to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Carbonpricing
has so far been unable to avert the coming climate catas-
trophe. Instead supplyside, managed decline of the fossil
fuel sector and proposals for Green New Deals, or Just
Transition are gaining steam among academics, policy
communities, and movements and even entering main-
stream politics. In this article, I review three main ap-
proaches to energy transition and highlight their underlying
goals and assumptions. I argue that movements for energy
transition must center social and economic justice in their
struggles if they want to gain broadbased appeal.
KEYWORDS
carbon pricing, climate change, energy transition, fossil fuels, green
new deal, just transition, managed decline, supplyside policies
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INTRODUCTION
In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC; Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change, 2018) released its report on Global Warming of 1.5°C concluding that global anthropogenic CO2 emissions
need to reach net zero around 2050 if we want a chance at keeping global warming to the 1.5°C goal of the Paris
Agreement. This report provided the scientific consensus on the need for a full energy transition away from fossil
fuels, an agenda that was already being advanced by Indigenous and environmental organizations across the world.
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons AttributionNonCommercial License, which permits use,
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© 2021 The Authors. Geography Compass published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Geography Compass. 2021;e12554. wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/gec3
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https://doi.org/10.1111/gec3.12554
For example, Oil Change International (Muttitt, 2016) in partnership with 14 organizations published a report in
2016 advocating for a managed decline of the fossil fuel industries in order to meet the 2016 Paris Agreement
targets. Meanwhile local scale transition movements have long been enacting a switch from fossil fuels to
renewable energy (Connors & McDonald, 2010).
Since the release of the landmark IPCC report the need for wholescale energy transitions has gained new
momentum and entered mainstream politics. A growing number of countries have legislated net zero energy
transitions (mostly with a target of 2050) including New Zealand (Menon, 2019), France (Felix, 2019) Denmark
(Timperley, 2019), the UK (Darby, 2019), Hungary (Darby, 2019), and Sweden (Rathi, 2017). Two other significant
developments (though neither have been enshrined into law) include the introduction of Green New Deal reso-
lutions and plans for the USA and the European Union, two very populous jurisdictions with significant global
emissions. On 14 February 2019, a nonbinding resolution “Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to
create a Green New Deal” (116th Congress bill profile H. res. 132, 1st Congress, 2019), was introduced to the US
congress and proposed transitioning the country to 100% renewable, zeroemissions energy sources in 10 years.
And in December 2019, the European Commission (2019) introduced a roadmap for a Green Deal, which would
commit Europe to becoming “climate neutral” by 2050. It is clear that the phasing out of fossil fuels has become a
key terrain of struggle as climate movements continue to gain steam and as jurisdictions race against the clock to
bring global emissions to zero by 2050.
The urgent requirement for a global energy transition is becoming wellrecognized, but there remain significant
disagreements within and between social movements, academics, and policy communities about how best to
achieve wholescale transition. In this article, I outline three broad approaches to energy transition being pursued by
scholarly, movement, and policy communities. I highlight the underlying goals and assumptions associated with each
approach and argue that movements for energy transition must center social and economic justice in their struggles
if they want to gain broadbased appeal.
This piece departs from other reviews of energy transitions which have primarily focused on the concepts of
energy and climate justice (especially analyzing how the burdens associated with transition should be shared be-
tween the global north and the global south (see, for example, Armstrong, 2020; Muttitt & Kartha, 2020; Newell &
Mulvaney, 2013) and energy democracy (especially the potentials for distributed and community or publiclyowned
energy systems and increased participation in decisionmaking (see, for example, Becker & Naumann, 2017;
Szulecki, 2018). Instead, this article is primarily concerned with categorizing and comparing different paths toward
wholescale transition that are or could be immediately pursued by jurisdictions with the power to enact climate
legislation and implement climate policy. Questions of global justice are included as part of the decolonizing thrust
of the final approach, but are not the primary focus of this article. Here I put forward a threepart typology of the
primary approaches gaining traction among movements, policy think tanks, and, increasingly, governments. Rather
than focusing on what geography and geographical concepts can offer analyses of transition (Bridge, Bouzarovski,
Bradshaw, & Eyre, 2013) I suggest that the discipline of geography ought to engage these approaches if it wants to
contribute to the unfolding politics of energy transition. In particular, I will argue that the first approach (demand
side green capital) ought to be criticized by geographers and that the second (supplyside managed decline) and
third (climate policy as social and economic justice) approaches ought to be forwarded by critical geographers.
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DEMANDSIDE GREEN CAPITAL
One approach to wholescale energy transition looks to markets and to consumers as both the source of the climate
emissions problem and the potential solution to transitioning off of fossil fuels. There is no shortage of examples of
this approach to transition, which has become the primary policy response of governments all over the world, sup-
ported by think tanks, environmental organizations, and even private fossil capital.
1
According to the World Bank, in
2020, 46 countries and 32 subnational jurisdictions had or were scheduled to implement carbon pricing (which
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applied to about 22% of global GHG emissions) either through an Emissions Trading System (ETS) or a carbon tax (The
World Bank, 2020). By 2017, seven of the world's largest 10 economies had implemented carbon pricing. Notably,
there are a growing number of countries in the global south where carbon pricing has been scheduled or already
implemented (Argentina, Mexico, Chile, Columbia, and South Africa) and more where implementation is under
consideration (Brazil, Senegal, Cote D'Ivoire, Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia; The World Bank, 2020).
Mainstream neoclassical economic theory underpins the carbon pricing approach, which seeks to correct
market externalities (i.e., that GHG emissions have been emitted, costfree, into the atmosphere for hundreds of
years) by internalizing the costs of pollution through market mechanisms. The focus of carbon pricing is on the
demandside of the economy; the assumption is that consumers of fossil fuels and fossil fuel intensive goods drive
economies and that producers are reactive agents, simply responding to demand. It follows, then, that a tax on
carbon (though usually only applied to the carbon content of fossil fuels and not more widely) will ensure that
consumers make greener market choices, switching from more expensive, carbonintensive goods to cheaper less
carbonintensive goods or reducing their consumption to match their ability to pay. While ETS (capandtrade) are
generally targeted at industry (supply), they count as demandside policies since they attempt to regulate emissions
rather than fossil fuels. Both carbon taxes and ETS apply to producers only in their capacities as consumers of fossil
fuel inputs (and thus emitters of carbon) in the production process; they do not target the producers of fossil fuels
themselves or attempt to directly restrict the supply of fossil fuels. By making carbon emissions and carbon
intensive inputs more expensive, carbon pricing schemes incentivize all industries to decrease the use of fossil fuels
in their production processes or to switch to lowcarbon lines of business.
While the demandside green capital approach champions market measures as the fairest, most flexible and
leastcost policies, there is nevertheless a role for governments in this path to energy transition. In addition to
maintaining a predictable and stable carbon pricing regime, governments following this approach often use carbon
tax revenues to subsidize energyefficiency or lowemitting substitutes, sending signals to capital and consumers
that they should make choices consistent with energy transition. Governments also actively reform regulations so
as to allow for more investment in renewables. With consumers and producers acting in their best interests by
reducing their costs and, thereby, their climate pollution, decarbonization is thought to flow naturally from this
series of disincentives and incentives. As decarbonization progresses, it is believed that fossil fuels will be phased
out as a result of declining consumer demand to which industry will respond by switching to lowcarbon business
lines. Notably, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has singularly pursued a demand
side focus on carbon emissions since it was formed in 1992 (Muttitt, 2016).
There is, however, little evidence that carbon pricing can actually deliver the kinds of deep decarbonization and
fossil fuel phase out required to keep global heating below 2°C. Tvinnereim and Mehling (2018) suggest that carbon
taxes have delivered lower emissions than businessasusual scenarios in the countries where they have been
implemented, but that the scale of the reductions is marginal and completely inconsistent with bringing the stock of
global emissions to zero. Even Sweden, which implemented its tax in 1991 and has the highest rate in the world at
US$140 per tonne of CO2, only saw a 4% reduction in road transportation emissions from 1990 to 2015 (186). Of
particular note is that calculations of emissions reductions associated with carbon taxes are usually compared with
business as usual scenarios, where energy consumption, and its associated emissions are expected to continue to
grow alongside GDP.
In fact, economic growth is fundamental to the neoclassical approach to decarbonization and energy transition.
Advocates claim that carbon pricing is the most “efficient” climate policy tool as it allows markets to allocate and
account for emissions, having negligible or even positive effects on economic growth. For example, Murray and
Rivers (2015) concluded that in the province of British Columbia, Canada, the carbon tax instituted in 2008 had
little net impact on economic performance with minor negative effects in emissionsintensive sectors like cement
compensated by positive effects in other sectors. They also suggest that it is possible that a carbon tax could spur
additional economic growth, especially if the tax revenue is used to lower “price distorting” income taxes. In this
approach then, economic growth is assumed to continue under decarbonization. As long as energy sources are
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made “green” through electrification and the sources of that electricity are renewable, there is no need to curb
absolute energy production or consumption and markets can be left to their own devices. Business continues as
usual, but with the social costs of carbon priced and internalized.
There is much in this approach to criticize for geographers who have been attuned to questions of social and
ecological justice and who understand capitalism as a system prone to social and ecological crisis. At first blush, the
focus on internalizing the social costs of carbon seems to address James O'Connor's (1991) second contradiction of
capitalism: that capital underproduces and degrades the nature upon which it ultimately depends as an input for
production and a sink for wastes. Global heating will increasingly imperil the capability of producers to set and
sustain value in motion as the stock of various “natural resources” and species dwindles, as weather becomes more
variable, and as calamities, pandemics, and so forth become more disastrous. Thus, the state steps in to price carbon
so as to secure the conditions for the reproduction of capitalism. This is the sense in which the demandside green
capital approach can be understood as a sociospatial “fix”; a mechanism through which the second contradiction is
pushed off and economic growth is (temporarily) secured (McCarthy, 2015).
Indeed, as McCarthy suggests, decarbonization will allow for vast new outlets for capital to circulate, and thus
new outlets for profitmaking. The scale and scope of a worldwide energy transition opens up a new frontier for
green capital at a time when other lines of profit have dried up because of “overaccumulation” and recession in the
world economy. This is even more apparent with the crisis of COVID19 where an epic overaccumulation of goods
(oil, garments, electronics, etc.) and services (air transportation, restaurants, etc.) are finding no buyers under
conditions of lockdown and layoffs. Opening up an expansive and profitable new line of accumulation (estimated to
need $72.8 trillion USD of capital to transition to 100% renewable by 2050; Jacobson et al., 2019), will provide
opportunities for value to circulate once again and, thus, expand and enrich its owners.
The green capital approach to energy transition focuses narrowly on carbon and continues to prop up a system
that many have described as growth based on theft. Carbon pricing measures only carbon dioxide equivalent
emissions and says nothing about the other ecological implications of a world energy system based on renewables.
Human and nonhuman displacement will be needed to make way for renewable infrastructure, since renewable
energy is much less dense than fossil fuels (McCarthy, 2015) and ecological destruction will accompany the mining
and refining associated with building out green energy infrastructure (Mulvaney, 2014). In terms of theft, the green
capital approach continues social relations of production that are based on the exploitation of labor (theft of time),
accumulation by dispossession through neo and settler colonization (theft of land), and the elimination of cultures,
cosmologies, and bodies (theft of life; Tuck & Yank, 2012).
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Supplyside managed decline
After decades of demandside green capital advocacy and policy approaches, the crisis of global heating is only
accelerating. Deep emissions reductions have not been achieved; most jurisdictions across the globe have increased
their absolute emissions over the last 20 years. Energy transition must now happen more aggressively, over a
shorter time period, which will cause more overall, though certainly uneven, disruption to economies and lives.
Since the late 2000s, a growing chorus of academics and movements have been suggesting that wholescale energy
transitions, on a timeline and carbon budget consistent with maintaining a habitable planet, require a managed
decline of fossil fuel production. Building on decades of community resistance movements to fossil fuel extraction
and nongovernmental research and advocacy (Carter & McKenzie, 2020), academics are now calling for policies
that restrict the supply of fossil fuels and support renewable energy transitions (Erickson, Lazarus, & Piggot, 2018;
Frumhoff, Heede, & Oreskes, 2015; Green & Denniss, 2018; Muttitt, 2016; Muttitt & Kartha, 2020; Paul, Santos
Skandier, & Renzy, 2020; Piggot, Erickson, van Asselt, & Lazarus, 2018). Importantly, contributors to this approach
do not reject demandside policies outright, but they do argue that green capital approaches alone have proven
vastly insufficient to meet the scale and scope of the climate challenge ahead of us.
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Supplyside approaches to energy transition shift the focus of interventions from the consumers (the end
ofpipe combustion of fossil fuels) to the producers (the suppliers of fossil fuels) through a wide range of policy tools
that limit the exploration, extraction, or transportation of fossil fuels. Green and Denniss (2018) break down
supplyside interventions into restrictive policies such as fossil fuel subsidy reductions, supply taxes, production
quotas, and bans or moratoria on extraction and supportive policies such as direct government provision of low
carbon infrastructure, research and development subsidies, and renewable energy feedintariffs (p. 75). Le Billon
and Kristoffersen (2019) distinguish between financial constraints to supply (including removal of subsidies,
taxation, reducing investments in production, etc.) and material instruments that create legal or physical obstacles
to production, transportation, or transformation (including blockades of specific projects, moratoriums, export
embargoes, etc.) And Piggot (2018) differentiates between pricebased instruments (removing subsidies, taxing
production and export fuels, etc.) and quantitybased instruments (regulatory approaches, bans and moratoria,
limiting public financing for fossil fuel projects, etc.).
Supplyside approaches target fossil fuel producers for their responsibility for climate change: the world's 90
largest industrial carbon producers are responsible for nearly twothirds of all known industrial greenhouse gas
emissions since 1751 (Heede, 2013). Drawing on the example of the tobacco industry being held accountable for
their coverup of research and the health implications of their products, this approach argues that the onus should
be on fossil fuel producers, rather than consumers, to pay for energy transition and that their harmful products
should be phased out. Attention is given to the enormous amount of power and influence that has been wielded by
the industry to cover up the scientific evidence of global heating and to prevent policies that address climate
change (Frumhoff et al., 2015) through its “regime of obstruction” (Carroll, 2020). Rather than producers simply
responding to the demands of consumers, this approach sees industry as manufacturing demand, using their
corporate power to materially and ideologically produce economies, built environments, and livelihoods that
require the consumption of fossil fuels (see, for example, Huber, 2013).
Managing decline through supplyside policies requires a strong state that uses “command and control”
regulation and economic planning to wind down production while keeping more fossil fuels in the ground. Exacting
costs on fossil fuel industries through enhanced regulations and supply taxes and restricting the supply of fossil
fuels should also increase the price of fossil fuels, which conventional economics suggests will discourage con-
sumption. Since 2017, France, Belize, Denmark, New Zealand, and Ireland have all implemented bans on oil and/or
gas exploration or production and Spain and Germany have banned coal mining (Carter & McKenzie, 2020).
Erickson et al. (2018) suggest that a simple and costeffective pathway for winding down oil production in Cali-
fornia would involve the state issuing no new permits for oil wells. With the natural rates of depletion of existing
wells, they calculate that this strategy would cut California oil production 70% by 2030 and contribute to sub-
stantial GHG reductions, calculated at 6–19 MtCO2 globally (p. 1040). This figure only includes GHG reductions
associated with combusting the extracted fuels and does not include the CO2 that would be saved through the
declining production process. Studies are showing that emissions from the production of fossil fuels are much
higher than previously calculated due to venting, flaring, wellhead leaks, spills, and so forth (ElHoujeiri, Brandt, &
Duffy, 2013; Schneising et al., 2014).
Geographers are wellpositioned to both contribute to and critique this approach to energy transition. While
the green capital approach focuses uniquely on GHG emissions, the supplyside approach is potentially more rooted
in local ecologies and economies. Geographers have long contributed to the literature on frontline communities
resisting extraction in both the Global South and the Global North and understand well and holistically the social,
economic, and environmental impacts of extraction and the complexities of community demands to wind down
production. So far, the supplyside literature has been focused at the level of national and international policy
contemplating, for example, which national jurisdictions should bear the heaviest burden and which jurisdictions
are most likely to be first movers. These are crucial questions of justice that geographers can and are contributing
to. But there is also a real opportunity here for geographers to consider the more complex ecologies of energy
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transition (beyond emissions) and to analyze how they are playing out at multiple scales and in particular
communities.
In contrast to the green capital approach, managed decline is agnostic about both economic and energy growth
as well as the role of green capital in transition. Its calls to phase out fossil fuel production leave open questions
about the appropriate place for collective versus private consumption and the build out of renewable energy as just
another frontier for private capital. Geographers have a lot to contribute here, since supplyside approaches can
include publiclyfunded and owned lowcarbon infrastructure which could rework built environments and produce
space in ways that could reduce absolute energy consumption and demand, an important consideration given the
land, mining, and offset footprints of renewable energy (Newell & Mulvaney, 2013). While supplyside energy
policies will disempower carbon capital (by removing subsidies and planning for decline), there is no guarantee that
private capital won't simply transfer its power and profitability to renewables, using energy transition as a socio
ecological fix, as explained above. There is role here for geographers to analyze renewable energy transitions as
ecological fixes and to propose policy alternatives that promote social, economic, and ecological justice alongside
decarbonization.
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Climate policy as social and economic justice
In order to avoid a renewable energy future where private capital enriches itself at the expense of humans and the
environment, a third approach to transition considers climate change policy as inadequate unless it reimages and
rebuilds the social and economic systems at the root of ecological crisis. In other words, this approach sees
wholescale energy transition as an opportunity to “change everything” (Klein, 2014), focusing on the redistribution
of wealth and power to those who have been left out of current carbon economies. Movements and policy com-
munities are driving this approach to transition under demands and plans for Green New Deals (GND) and Just
Transitions (JT), but a wide range of social and economic justice proposals should be considered as part of this
approach. In this section, I group this diversity of calls into a threedimensional or “3D” framework where
decarbonization is posited as just one the 3Ds associated with transition.
2
In addition to decarbonization (the first
“D”), advocates of climate policy as social and economic justice focus on aspects of democratization and decolo-
nization, with an emphasis on the redistribution of land, wealth, and jurisdiction; delivering universal social pro-
grams; and decommodifying energy and transportation infrastructure.
The social and economic justice (hereafter “3D”) approach and the supplyside managed decline approach both
agree that demandside green capitalism has failed to deliver an energy transition, including the kinds of deep
emissions reductions needed to avert climate catastrophe. However, the 3D approach is less agnostic than
managed decline about the role of “green” capital in transition. While there is still a diversity of perspectives about
the extent to which colonial capitalism needs to be reformed rather than abolished in order to establish truly
sustainable economies in this approach, there is certainly an emphasis on taking key sectors (like the oil and gas
industry; Paul et al., 2020), services (like healthcare in the United States) and infrastructure (especially energy and
transportation infrastructure; Wilt, 2020) out of the market in order to meet the goals of ecology and human
wellbeing (Galvin & Healy, 2014). While it is clear that this approach seeks a much more bold transformation of
economies including constraining the profit imperative in key sectors, its commitment to challenging capitalism is
an open question (Nugent, 2011).
Another important difference is that the 3D approach centers marginalized, Indigenous and workingclass
people, both as a normative principle (repairing the inequalities associated with the carbon capital economy) and as
a strategy for pursuing broadbased movements capable of challenging the power and interests that have actively
obstructed transition. While carbon pricing has ignited populist backlash among the working classes
(Raymond, 2020; Umit & Schaffer, 2020), a justice approach is consistent with a “political program meant to directly
appeal to the material interests of the working class” by pursuing “ecologically beneficial policies within the already
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existing movements around the decommodification of basic needs like “Medicare for All” or “Housing for All”
(Huber, 2019). The universal programs at the center of GND proposals, for example, offer new benefits like social
programs and jobs guarantees, that are more easily understood as directly improving peoples' lives and less easily
conceived as costs imposed by elites on working people. Here, the 3D approach also departs from degrowth
movements and philosophies, which emphasize downscaling production and consumption in accordance with
environmental limits (Kallis, Kerschner, & MartinezAlier, 2012; Paulson, 2017). GND proposals would initiate large
public investments, that, at least in the short term, would build out a tremendous amount of infrastructure and
number of programs and require expansion. Whether the redistributive thrust of 3D approaches could be
reconciled with no growth or degrowth economies is a question these movements have largely sidestepped.
Just Transition is a principle and a framework that originates in the labor movement and arose out of concern
to protect and transition workers in industries subject to environmental policies (Newell & Mulvaney, 2013). And
while JT has been advanced by unions in workplaces that were disproportionally white and male (for example, in
North American extractive industries) the principle and proposals have since been expanded (Evans &
Phelan, 2016) to cover a wider range of workers who have traditionally been subordinated in carbon economies,
including the largely racialized and feminized sectors in the food and accommodation, care, and service industries
(MertinsKirkwood & Deshpande, 2019). In line with Bauhardt’s (2014) criticism that energy transition has focused
too strongly on maledominated fields such as energy and construction, the latest articulations of JT and GND
proposals put the crisis of social reproduction at their center and aim to expand work in the caring economy.
I call this approach's focus on reforming economic and social systems in order to advance marginalized and
workingclass people's interests democratization: the second “D” of the 3D approach. Here, democratization is
understood in an expansive sense. It is much more than procedural justice, or the inclusion of marginalized voices in
decisionmaking. Democratization is applied to the social relations of production (or the economy) with a strong
redistributive thrust that would wrestle profits, ownership, and power away from a small group of elite who have
been enriching themselves through carbon capitalism.
3
Central pillars of this approach include decommodification,
especially of essential needs such as healthcare and housing, and the redistribution of wealth through much more
aggressive and progressive taxation of the rich, of corporations, and of financial capital. In fact, proposals for a GND
in the UK, and subsequently in Europe, emerged after the 2007–2008 global financial crisis and centered on
mechanisms to reign in international financial capital (Luke, 2009). With the focus squarely on elites and the rich,
the justice approach locates the problem of climate change and its solutions not with individuals who need to make
sacrifices in their lifestyles. Instead, this approach sees solutions in economic planning and the production of low
carbon goods and services for collective and equitable consumption. This would include redirecting resources away
from things like the police and the military toward jobcreating programs in lowcarbon, unionized, “care”
professions, articulating with the key demands of Black Lives Matters movements (Aronoff, 2020).
Decolonization is the third “D,” I associate with this approach to energy transition. A robust literature exists
that contemplates how global energy transition and global GHG targets can be made in ways that redress the
inequalities that exist between countries in the Global South and Global North. This literature suggests that efforts
to reduce GHG emissions should take into account the theft of resources, labor, and life which were central to the
industrialization of empires, now the Global North, and how limiting fossil fuel consumption and production
(stranding assets in the ground) might infringe on the Global South's rights to development (Armstrong, 2020;
Caney, 2016). Le Billon and Kristoffersen (2019) and Muttitt and Kartha (2020) suggest that climate justice
principles that account for the legacies of uneven global development be used to decide the scale and pace of
decarbonization. For example, highincome countries (that have a greater ability to pay for transition), countries
with the largest historical cumulative per capita production of fossil fuels, and places where the social costs of
reducing extraction are lowest should take the lead and be most aggressive in their drawdowns.
While approaches to global climate justice are well established in the literature and in the politics that play out
at international forums through the UNFCC, Indigenous sovereignty, rights, and the return of land are admittedly
still marginal to GND and JT proposals, which are primarily proposed at the level of national states. In Latin
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America, where there is “massive and ongoing resistance of Indigenous and workingclass communities to
extractive and megadevelopment projects” (Cohen & Riofrancos, 2020), there is hope that a new era of GNDs will
break from the resource nationalist paths of the pink tide governments that used stateowned extractive enter-
prises to reinvest resource wealth locally, but pushed even deeper into Indigenous territories in a familiar pattern
of dispossession (Fernandes, 2020). There is a growing recognition that just energy transitions must undo the theft
of Indigenous lands and life that underlie the capitalist economies of both the Global South and the (settler
colonial) North, which will require states to return land and resources and recognize the inherent rights and
jurisdiction of Indigenous Peoples.
Writing in Jacobin, Nick Estes (2019), asks: “Why is it easier for some to imagine the end of fossil fuels but not
settler colonialism? To imagine green economies and carbonfree, wind turbine, solar power, and electric bullet
train utopias but not the return of Indigenous lands?” In settlercolonies, Indigenous Nations, communities, and
organizations are articulating their longheld demands for state recognition of their sovereignty, for real self
determination and for land back with movements to address climate change. In the US the Red Deal, put forward by
The Red Nation, has laid out a platform that prioritizes Indigenous liberation through the enforcement of Treaty
rights and other agreements, land and water restoration, free and accessible institutions that promote health and
wellbeing, and the divestment from police and military institutions (Yazzie, 2019). While the exact content of, and
blue prints for, decolonization are diverse, there are consistent demands to move beyond metaphor (Tuck &
Yank, 2012) and to focus on the return of land to Indigenous Nations and the recognition of Indigenous jurisdiction.
As Manuel (2017) argues, decolonization has to reverse the process through which Indigenous Peoples were
reduced from 100% to 0.2% of the landmass which is now “Canada.” There can be no justice in just transition
without Indigenous leadership on climate change policy, without expanding the 0.2% land base and economies of
Indigenous Nations, nor without state recognition of Indigenous jurisdiction over their full territories.
The 3D approach is ripe for contributions from geographers. As movements for climate, for Black lives, and for
Indigenous sovereignty gain steam in the 2020s, geographers can be part of reimagining and changing everything.
As 3D proposals and movements work to undermine capitalism by decommodifying housing and energy infra-
structure, and transitioning from private to collective consumption and transportation through public services, the
expertise of geographers will be needed to reimagine and plan whole new built environments. Insights from
feminist, Indigenous, Black, queer, disability, and other intersectional geographies will be key to ensuring that the
remaking of these built environments are truly liberatory for all. Contributions could come from virtually every
subdiscipline of geography with justicefocused proposals for reworking cities, addressing the local grievances of
frontline extractive communities, restoring land and water, planning infrastructure, increasing collective con-
sumption, reimagining property rights, sharing governance, and much more. Geographers could be key to fleshing
out the visions of these movements by proposing concrete policies and plans. They could do so by working inde-
pendently, or more directly in partnership with movements and policy communities. Geographers are also needed
to ensure that GND and JT proposals are not just another socioecological fix wherein capital finds new green
outlets for growth while inequality, exploitation, and theft continue unabated. In this respect, geographers can play
a key role in analyzing and assessing the socioecological impacts of the redistributive, decommodifying, and
decolonizing policies at the center of the 3D approach.
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CONCLUSION
As I write, in the fall of 2020, we are in a moment of crisis and a period of upheaval. The global COVID19 crisis has
dramatically and suddenly changed so much about how and whether people across the globe work, about whose
jobs are considered essential, about the scale and scope of government relief measures and economic planning, and
much more. At the same time, the global movement for Black and Indigenous lives is making serious gains changing
accepted wisdom about the spending of public dollars on institutions of policing and violence rather than care and
wellness. The global climate movement, which had been gaining steam in the leadup to the Coronavirus, is now
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loudly calling for a just recovery from the pandemic. Behind the just recovery movement is a 3D approach that
engages with the movement demands of Black and Indigenous lives in order to advocate for a recovery that puts
marginalized people and the planet first. Changing everything is suddenly on the table; the neoliberal axiom “there
is no alternative” is falling to pieces.
Geographers have a unique opportunity to contribute to the movements and policy communities advocating for
energy transition. As the politics of transition move away from the onedimensional focus on GHG emissions re-
ductions through carbon pricing, critical geographers can play a central role in fleshing out a more 3D approach to
humanenvironment relations, one that emphasizes the complexity of ecological relationships and that helps to lay
out the social relations needed to support them and us all. By focusing on policies that provide real material gains
for marginalized and working class communities, that remove key resources, services, and infrastructure from
markets, and that target the suppliers of fossil fuels, we might just build the kind of broadbased movements
capable of changing everything.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
I would like to thank Dr. Simon Enoch for naming the “3D” approach I use in this article. Thanks to members of the
Corporate Mapping Project who have provided a wonderful intellectual community for thinking about the scale and
scope of the changes needed for a habitable planet and a better world. I recognize the University of Regina
President's Publication Fund for contributing to the open access fees for this article.
ORCID
Emily Eaton https://orcid.org/0000-0002-1358-7790
ENDNOTE
1
Companies like BP, Husky, and Suncor have vocally supported carbon taxes (Bakx, 2019).
2
I would like to credit Dr. Simon Enoch of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives for coining the “3D” approach of
decarbonization, decolonization, and democratization.
3
In this sense, it is consistent with the definition of energy democracy offered by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation which
suggests that “the decisions that shape our lives should be established jointly and without regard to the principle of
profit” (Kunze and Becker, 2014, p. 8 cited in Szulecki, 2018).
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AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY
Emily Eaton is an associate professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at the
University of Regina. Her books include Fault Lines: Life and Landscape in Saskatchewan's Oil Economy, and
Growing Resistance: Canadian farmers and the Politics of Genetically Modified Wheat.
How to cite this article: Eaton E. Approaches to energy transitions: Carbon pricing, managed decline, and/or
green new deal? Geography Compass. 2021;e12554. https://doi.org/10.1111/gec3.12554
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